In a team-issued statement, Cleveland’s owner and chairman Paul Dolan acknowledged negative feedback received from civic leaders and Native American coalitions, including the Cleveland Indigenous Coalition and the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI).
“Hearing firsthand the stories and experiences of Native American people, we gained a deep understanding of how tribal communities feel about the team name and the detrimental effects it has on them,” he said.
“We also spoke to local civic leaders who represent diverse populations in our city and who highlighted the negative impact our team name has had on our broader population and on under-represented groups across our community.”
Cleveland said the name change process is the first of many steps in their pledged rebranding effort, which “will take time.” The franchise did not set a timeline for the changes and said the club will continue to use the name Indians during the process.
The decision to change the team name, first reported by The New York Times, comes at a time when America is coming to terms with its racist past. A summer of protesting the deaths of Black people at the hands of police has led professional sports teams, companies and even schools to reconsider branding, imagery and memorabilia based on ethnic stereotypes and caricatures.
Sports teams with names based on Native Americans, including MLB’s Indians and Atlanta Braves, and the NFL’s Washington Redskins and Kansas City Chiefs, have been facing pressure to reexamine their names as Americans more directly grapple with issues of racism.
Washington’s NFL team — formerly the Redskins — did away with their name in July and are now the Washington Football Team.
Origin of the Cleveland team name
Change the Mascot, a national grass-roots campaign, applauded Cleveland’s move on Monday, saying it shows a growing understanding that Native people should not serve as mascots for sports teams.
“With their commendable decision to alter the team name, Cleveland’s team is taking an important step,” Ray Halbritter, an Oneida Nation representative and leader of the Change the Mascot campaign, said in a statement. “For decades, Native American leaders including the National Congress of American Indians have called on Cleveland to change the name and logo. By finally acting, Cleveland’s team is moving the team and professional sports forward down a new path of inclusivity and mutual respect.”
The “Indians” name dates to 1915, when it was chosen by the team and a group of baseball newspaper writers. Though its exact origin is unclear, the name was partly based on the contemporary success of the Boston Braves, who won the 1914 World Series, as well as on Louis Sockalexis, a former Native American baseball star in Cleveland who died in 1913, according to Cleveland Magazine.Cleveland removed its “Chief Wahoo” logo, a racist caricature of a Native American character, from its team uniforms after the 2018 season. “I think it’s time to move forward,” Terry Francona, the manager of Cleveland’s baseball team, said in July when discussing the team’s name. “It’s a very difficult subject. It’s also delicate.”
CNN’s Jacob Lev, Eric Levenson and Nicquel Terry Ellis contributed to this report.